Thursday, 16 February 2017


“Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour.” - William Cowper

Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta (Turkish yenibahar = “newspice”), is the dried unripe fruit (berries, used as a spice) of Pimenta dioica, a midcanopy tree native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico, and Central America, now cultivated in many warm parts of the world. The name “allspice” was coined as early as 1621 by the English, who thought it combined the flavour of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Several unrelated fragrant shrubs are called “Carolina allspice” (Calycanthus floridus), “Japanese allspice” (Chimonanthus praecox), or “wild allspice” (Lindera benzoin). “Allspice” is also sometimes used to refer to the herb costmary (Tanacetum balsamita).

Allspice is the dried fruit of the P. dioica plant. The fruits are picked when green and unripe and are traditionally dried in the sun. When dry, they are brown and resemble large, brown, smooth peppercorns. The whole fruits have a longer shelf life than the powdered product, and produce a more aromatic product when freshly ground before use.

Fresh leaves are used where available. They are similar in texture to bay leaves, thus are infused during cooking and then removed before serving. Unlike bay leaves, they lose much flavour when dried and stored, so are not available commercially. The leaves and wood are often used for smoking meats where allspice is a local crop. Allspice can also be found in essential oil form.

Allspice is one of the most important ingredients of Caribbean cuisine. It is used in Caribbean jerk seasoning (the wood is used to smoke jerk in Jamaica, although the spice is a good substitute), in moles, and in pickling; it is also an ingredient in commercial sausage preparations and curry powders. Allspice is also indispensable in Middle Eastern cuisine, particularly in the Levant, where it is used to flavour a variety of stews and meat dishes. In Arab cuisine, for example, many main dishes call for allspice as the sole spice added for flavouring.

In the USA, it is used mostly in desserts, but it is also responsible for giving Cincinnati-style chili its distinctive aroma and flavour. Allspice is commonly used in Great Britain, and appears in many dishes, including cakes. Even in many countries where allspice is not very popular in the household, as in Germany, it is used in large amounts by commercial sausage makers. In the West Indies, an allspice liqueur called “pimento dram”, is produced. In Greece and Turkey allspice is often used to flavour beef dishes stewed with ripe fresh tomatoes, onions (yahni/yahnisi = “ragout”) and any of a variety of seasonal vegetables.

The allspice tree, classified as an evergreen shrub, can reach 10–18 m in height, although commonly allspice can be a small, scrubby tree, quite similar to the bay laurel in size and form. It can also be a tall, canopy tree, sometimes grown to provide shade for coffee trees planted underneath it. It can be grown outdoors in the tropics and subtropics with normal garden soil and watering. Smaller plants can be killed by frost, although larger plants are more tolerant. It adapts well to container culture and can be kept as a houseplant or in a greenhouse.

To protect the pimenta trade, the plant was guarded against export from Jamaica. Many attempts at growing the pimenta from seeds were reported, but all failed. At one time, the plant was thought to grow nowhere except in Jamaica, where the plant was readily spread by birds. Experiments were then performed using the constituents of bird droppings; however, these were also totally unsuccessful. Eventually, passage through the avian gut, whether due to the acidity or the elevated temperature, was found to be essential for germinating the seeds. Today, pimenta is spread by birds in Tonga and Hawaii, where it has become naturalised on Kauaʻi and Maui.

Allspice was encountered by Christopher Columbus on the island of Jamaica during his second voyage to the New World, and named by Dr Diego Álvarez Chanca. It was introduced into European and Mediterranean cuisines in the 16th century. It continued to be grown primarily in Jamaica, though a few other Central American countries produced allspice in comparatively small quantities.

Volatile oils found in the plant contain eugenol, a weak antimicrobial agent. Other constituents are caryophyllene, methyl eugenol, glycosides, tannins, quercetin, resin, and sesquiterpenes. At the processing units, these volatile essential oils are obtained through distillation process using this spice corn. The outer coat of the allspice berries is believed to have the greatest concentration of some of these medicinally important compounds. Allspice oil has been used as a deodorant component.

The active principles in the allspice increase the motility of the gastrointestinal tract. They also aid in the digestion through facilitating enzyme secretions inside the stomach and intestines. Allspice also has anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warming and soothing action), carminative (anti-flatulence) properties. The spice also contains a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, copper, selenium, and magnesium. There is also a considerable amount of vitamin A, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin-C.

In the language of flowers, bouquets adorned with strings of allspice berries indicate “compassion – my heart feels compassion for you”. A rare bouquet containing allspice flowers means “your heart and is tender and compassionate”.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme.

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